…The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley
This was another one of the books that I read on my Scottish honeymoon, it was recommended to me at a ‘Book Spa’ experience (if you haven’t been to one – go to one, it’s like therapy but with literature and tea…and cake), basically because I said I was a bit of an Agatha Christie fan and this book is indeed a murder mystery but a murder mystery with a bit of twist.
The main character and narrator of the novel is Flavia de Luce, a rather wonderful and incredibly clever 11-year-old and it is she who discovers the murder and goes on to solve it, with the help of her fearlessness, gumption and love of chemistry. The book is set in a crumbling country pile, Buckshaw, in 1950s Britain, so you can see where the Agatha Christie thing is coming in here.
I think this book appealed to me because I felt it related to my childhood, well not the growing up in a huge aristocratic mansion thing, or the solving murders thing, so in reality it doesn’t relate at all but I really didn’t spend that much time in reality as a child. I was in fact in the most magical of places where my seesaw could carry me anywhere I wanted to go at incredibly high speeds, where I was a child detective (with a special detecting kit that I put together in a green rucksack) and a very accomplished witch, running round my very own castle. If I needed to do any high-speed international travel my broom could take me anywhere I wanted to go. So this book stirred inside me the most magical part of childhood that one tends to lose track of as the years go by, I’m sure it would do the same for any reader and I thoroughly recommend that you do indeed read it.
The narrative is really nicely balanced (what with it essentially being about horrid murder) by Flavia spending much of her time concocting different ways to wreak revenge on her two older (and incredibly adolescent) sisters. There is also the story of her mother’s death, which has cast a mysterious shadow over the de Luce household. Flavia is and incredibly likeable character and seeing the world from her point of view is a real pleasure. The language Bradley adopts is very true to the era and therefore transports one fully back in time and plops them nicely down in 1950s village halls, WI, corner sweet shops, nostalgic England and leads them to witness the entire tale in the most involved way possible.
The only criticism I would have, if I had to have one, would be that I knew ‘who dun it’ by about chapter 12 so when it came down to finding out in about chapter 22 I felt like I’d been there for a while already, however it was nice to have my suspicions confirmed after a nice long period of suspense. Flavia’s father is also a slightly annoying character, but perhaps that’s because Flavia is such a likeable one and her father is not really doing a great job of fathering her (too many fathers in that sentence). However, you’ll be pleased to know that Flavia does have a father figure in the form of the family Gardner, Dogger, which is a lovely addition to an already lovely narrative.
This book is sweet, clever, funny, deliciously vintage, a little bit odd and because of the innocence of the narrator is great for all age-types from your Nana to your 11-year-old. I believe that there are now three Flavia de Luce books in existence and I shall be buying the next two in the series before I fly off on my next holiday (it’s surprising how many books one can fit on a broom).